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When does inspiration become stealing?

Careful! This post is looking a little old and could be inaccurate in many, many ways

It’s always been a problem of web design that it’s not always so easy to come up with an original idea, can any idea actually be considered totally unique anymore? In the absence of talent and inspiration some designers will simply steal someone else’s work and pass it off as their own. Yet after reading Brad Colbow’s recent post it got me thinking about the thin line between what is inspiration and what is stealing.

It’s amazing when you think about the things that we don’t consider stealing that could be claimed as such. Is Google Buzz stealing the idea of Twitter or Facebook stealing the idea of Myspace? Because they’re simply ideas we don’t think of it as stealing, so how about the original ideas in web design. Was the second person to use the letterpress style stealing from the first, and at what stage did it become a trend rather than stealing?

Taking inspiration from such small elements must therefore not be seen as stealing because they are only a small part of a greater whole. So with this is mind I struggled to see problem in Brad’s case where another designer had been inspired to use a swing on a hill in his design. I can clearly see the connection but as the rest of the site design was so different and the image was recreated I couldn’t call it stealing.

Stealing is sort of similar to the planets aligning (this will make sense, honest). If some design element of a website could be the idea of someone else then could we then call it inspiration? If all these little ideas come together (the planets) in a specific order that it’s then hard to see how they could have had the idea or built it to the same dimensions themselves could this then be called stealing?

The answer is maybe.

Although we can pin down some of the more blatant cases of stealing it often depends on the original designer to see how the new website or element of design looks against there’s. I’d say stealing a button and placing it in a site that looks completely different would never bother me, sure it is stealing but it’s one thing and although I can see the connection few will connect the two sites if they ever saw them.

So I’d say we possibly need to be a bit more forgiving of other designers when we get these grey areas. When it’s blatant then it’s definitely okay to call them out on it but when it’s not so clear cut I’d maybe say let it go and be flattered that someone liked your work enough to try and copy a bit of it.

Am I right or completely way off, let me know you thoughts.